“The nations natal day was grandly celebrated in this place, wrote a reporter for The Guthrian in July 1897. “The day opened with an atmosphere giving good promise and early masses began to pour into town. They came from all part of the county. It has been but on rare occasions that so large a multitude gathered in this place.”
Bells and Anvils
“The patriotism of the people was aroused by the ringing of bells and the booming of anvils, in the early morning hours.”
Bells and anvils! I don’t suppose those could be heard from Monteith, seven miles southeast of Guthrie Center, Iowa. Sherd and Laura Goff lived just east of Monteith with five children–Leora (6), Merl (5), Wayne (4), Georgia (3), and Jennings Bryan (1). Yes, Goffs were fans of William Jennings Bryan.
They’d returned to Iowa the year before, after three years living in Nebraska’s promise of prosperity–which had brought them nothing but three more children. Even the Bloomfield bank “went bust.” A sheriff’s sale had been held for Goffs’ property, sold at the end of July, 1896, to the highest bidder for “cash in hand at the front door” of the GAR Hall, Niobrara.
What had happened to the bank and all the bright promise of the new town of Bloomfield, Nebraska? Drought.
So Goffs returned to Guthrie County, Iowa, where they lived just east of Monteith. Just west of the town was the house that Laura’s parents, David and Emilia Jordan, had built. Laura’s younger siblings were still at home–Floy (21), Lottie (19), Floyd (17), Collis (14), Cora (11), and Fred (almost 8). Early that Independence Day, they would have been busy feeding their livestock and getting horses and wagon ready, while Emilia and her daughters cooked food for the day–probably fried chicken.
I imagine that one of the sisters stayed with Laura to help wash the faces and hands of her little ones, or pack the fried chicken in a basket, and maybe even one of Laura’s brothers helped Sherd with his chores.
After they’d all climbed into the wagon, horses pulled them along a dirt road through the town of Monteith and west half a mile to the Jordan home.
Then all fifteen Jordans and Goffs rode on west past the cemetery, where three Jordan infants are buried, to the main road–which wouldn’t be paved as Highway #25 for several decades–and north to the county seat.
Eventually they came over the last slope where you could see the houses of Guthrie Center nestled against a lush wooded hill in the distance, ready for a thrilling day. (I wonder whether the kids vied to be the first to call, “I see Guthrie first!” like my sister and I did back in the 1950s when going to Guthrie Center to see our grandma–who is Leora in this story.)
“Henry Jones and W. H. Camp served as marshals. Provisions were made for the more intellectual exercises in the court house park,” the newspaper reported.
“The grand stand furnished a fine rostrum and the shade well accommodated the masses. H. D. Brown presided. Miss Eleanor Hammond read the Declaration of Independence. Pres. Brown then, in a neat address, introduced the Hon. T. J. Mahoney of Omaha for the set oration. Mr. Mahoney began his address by speaking of his advent into this county in 1872, his growing to manhood in farm labor in the vicinity, his efforts to obtain an education in our schools and his educational work here, the many pleasant associations and acquaintances he had enjoyed in years past . . . and of the great pleasure it gave him to again address them.”
I imagine the Goff children were bored during this “neat address,” and their mother’s younger sisters probably kept them entertained.
Just who was this Honorable T. J. Mahoney of Omaha? Born in 1857 in Wisconsin, he moved to Iowa with his family when he was about seven years old. Educated at the University of Notre Dame, he returned to Guthrie County, Iowa, to teach school. He taught Latin and Math in the county high school at Panora for three years, and was elected in 1881 (at the age of 24) as Guthrie County superintendent of schools. After graduating from the law department of Iowa State University in 1885, he settled in Omaha, where he was elected county attorney of Douglas County.
A worthy former Guthrie Countian to deliver their Independence Day address.
“[Mahoney] spoke of the changes that he had witnessed in this vicinity and of the evidences of prosperity and wealth that he witnessed upon our streets; the finely improved home and farms where years ago he had crossed the raw prairie or had seen the shanty of the settler and the operation of the breaking plow. He spoke of attending the celebration in 1873 in the then Tracy, now Mitchell’s grove, of the crude conveyances then used by the people compared with the finely cushioned carriages, the scores of covered buggies and the fine equipages driven by attendants upon the present celebration.”
I doubt that the Goff and Jordan wagons were among the fine equipages he’d admired.
“He went on to speak of the present tremendous productive power of the country, in agriculture, manufactures and mining; of the vast strides the country has made in progress since its birth in 1776; of the patriotism of the fathers and the possession of this virtue by their sons. In our history, the learned speaker remarked, great occasions had arisen but in every great emergency men suitably patriotic and great had been found to meet the demands of the great emergency. If we had a Washington, whom the world conceded to be great, for the revolutionary emergency we had a man for the great emergency of 1861-5.
“Though times might, in the changing years, sometimes appear dark the patriotism and wisdom of the people always brought the country well through the crisis, and as it has been in the past so with the present the intelligence and patriotism of the people was a certain guarantee of the country’s continued prosperity. There were no occasion for the fears that some people appeared to possess of the country’s ruin. The address was intelligent, patriotic, ably delivered and well adapted to the time. His great audience heard with wrapt [sic] attention, and were profited by the able effort.”
Amusement and Electrical Illumination
Applause after the speech probably brought the children to attention, anticipating something more fun.
“The races were the chief feature of the afternoon’s enjoyment. There were however other features of amusement. Friend met friend. The merry go round furnished enjoyment for the younger Americans. Many of the pioneer settlers of the county were present. We noticed many of the first settlers, yet prominent in affairs, from Panora and other places.”
The Jordan brothers may have participated in the races, although Laura’s own children were too young. I’d hoped that this little band of Monteith citizens might have enjoyed a band concert, but if they’d been watching the weather, they may have noticed thunderclouds in the west.
“In the evening there was a band concert on the square. Nature favored the people by withholding the showers throughout the day but in the early night the heavens furnished electric illumination the clouds poured out water and some were deprived of expected pleasure by the storms intervention.”
But during those days with no electricity, no running water, no indoor bathrooms, but plenty of hard work, this was a day of camaraderie of the grownups and some fun for the kids to remember for a long time. A glorious Fourth indeed.
The Bloomfield Monitor, Bloomfield, Nebraska, July 29, 1896.
The Guthrian, Guthrie Center, Iowa, July 8, 1897